Over the past two years, our world has seen its fair share of change.
When I boarded a plane out of Boston in September 2013, enrollment in the Affordable Care Act was just weeks from going live. So was the resulting partisan disagreement that led to our government’s two-week shutdown.
That same year, a violent and bloodthirsty sect calling itself the Islamic State was still unheard of to most of us, while civil war in Syria teetered on the edge of a surge in casualties and press coverage. It wasn’t long before an obscure virus named for a tributary in the Congo would dominate international headlines — a disease that, for all we knew then, was limited to the stuff of print thrillers and sci-fi disaster films.
While I was away, America developed an obsession with Candy Crush, cheered on its first Triple Crown winner in thirty-seven years, and entrenched the term “selfie” firmly in its lexicon — even voting it the OED’s 2013 Word of the Year.
On the very day I arrived in Tansen, in fact, South Africa lost its renowned and beloved elder statesman — a man whose message of peace and reconciliation reached far beyond the borders of his own nation. Not long afterward, the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston became foci of a nationwide conversation around race relations in America, as long-simmering tensions erupted into new waves of conflict and raised pressing questions without easy answers.
A landmark 5-4 Supreme Court decision was announced in favor of legalizing gay marriage. Pope Francis made his first visit to the States. Scotland courted the idea of independence.
Ukraine-Russian (not to mention Russian-American) tensions escalated with Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Meanwhile, and not a little ironically, American-Cuban diplomatic relations finally began experiencing a post-Cold-War thaw — to the relief of cigar aficionados everywhere.
Nepal also saw a remarkable number of watershed events during this brief two-year window: the adoption and ratification of a new constitution; free elections for only the third time in its history; the inauguration of its first female president. Two massive earthquakes struck this past spring, of course, leaving a country devastated by natural disaster — only to be hammered a few months later by India’s even more crippling border blockade. It’s a situation that daily grows more desperate even as I write this, and cries out for our prayer and action.
I’ll not venture much speculation on how I may have changed in these two years. There’s plenty of time to reflect on this time of significant, if often uncomfortable, growth. At the very least, though, it’s safe to say I still love traveling to far-flung places! And happily, I’ve also gained many more wonderful friends to visit during this time abroad. Unexpectedly, but as apparently often happens, I seem to have adopted a rather more liberal political bent, and generally find politics more engaging than I did before. (In fairness though, the series West Wing — combined with hype around a new election cycle — may have more to do with that.)
In reflecting on this swirl of change, I’m reminded of a stanza I love from T. S. Eliot’s poem Four Quartets ~
Only time will tell what has changed the most in and around me. That sort of noticing is inescapable during the transition involved in leaving one world to re-enter another. Time will also make clearer the lasting impact of those changes, as I arrive back home where I started — just to find I’m encountering it, in some ways, for the very first time.
T.S. Eliot once made another lyrical observation, that “every moment is a fresh beginning.”
Well, this moment certainly seems to be.